Why have a WOW Chaplain?

Business Chaplains otherwise known as World Of Work (WOW) Chaplains provide what is called a "ministry of presence." What does that really mean? Situations arise when people need to talk with someone who will listen them, hold it in confidence and help them process the issue or, when warranted, are referred to other helpful resources in the community such as psychologists. Chaplains are not counsellors. The World of Work Chaplaincy is a resource taking care of the 'whole person' as they are, where they are.

With growing and valid concerns of how continuing technological advancements will impact the human aspect of the world of work we must begin to design human working environments that go beyond fruit bowls and yoga classes to encourage human wellness.

The world of work is no longer a set place. People interact these days at home, in coffee shops and many other venues. As such work is far more integrated into our 24/7 lives. This means employers actually participate in employees' wellbeing. They are present in their employees' lives. The good and the bad. That concept places the responsibility for employee wellbeing firmly with the employer more than it has ever been before in history. Employers can't be a bystander and adopt a hands off approach anymore. Drill down from that concept and we start to understand the very real impact work has on mental health. At a direct micro level the relationship between poor work conditions and poor mental health is borne out by significant evidence. Research demonstrates a clear link between psychosocial determinants — such as level of control over work, work autonomy, work pressure, power imbalances, bullying, a profound lack of meaning, alienation, and dehumanisation — and work stress, burnout, physical health problems and death. How jobs are designed (the amount and type of resources allocated to manage demands), the organisation and management of work, and the workplace social context are all aspects that potentially affect worker mental health.

What does this have to do with the modern take on Chaplaincy. Known as the ministry of presence, it could just as easily be renamed, Chief Heart Officer. Sadly, we are heading towards a society where people actually need to be reminded they are humans. We are not robots and being human comes with specific life season challenges. We also must tap into our own spirituality which drives our individual belief and values systems. Spirituality is often the piece of wellness that is so often poorly explained. We understand, mind and body. But spirit? Consider this, our individual values systems are at the core of what I call moral safety. And it's a workplace issue.

"Today, driven by powerful communication networks and technology, employees face the added burden of always on mobile devices, email and online applications. The growing clouds of depression, stress, addiction, conflict, domestic violence, bullying and unethical corporate behaviour are just some of the challenges chaplaincy helps manage every day.”

The profession of Chaplaincy is also being re-invented. Once the domain of churches, there is now even a Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University who in more recent times has fulfilled an ethics roll helping MIT Technology students and start ups understand the 'human dimension' to proposed technological solutions. If you like, someone to talk with about ideas and dreams and disruption, helping that young person thinking about the tremendous ethical responsibility they'd be taking on if their dream comes true?

Chaplaincy is now also a tertiary qualification with training in mental health, ethics, pastoral care and critical incident care.

Often the silent profession because of the very nature of the discretion required by the Chaplain, they are largely known for operating in hospitals, courts, prisons, emergency services (e.g. fire and police) and the armed forces because of the ostensibly unpredictable, hazardous, stressful and emotional nature of work in these sectors.

In Australia, Chaplains are also found in Mining, Transport even Law offices and more recently Banking who are now bringing onboard the chaplaincy model to have someone for their employees just to talk with. The introduction of Chaplains to the Legal Profession is in itself fascinating, as it is a profession now widely challenged with alarming burn out rates of practitioners. Yet another alarm bell ringing, that we are human. Deadlines might exist, but at what cost?

One common element in the dehumanisation of workplaces is the strategic thinking and language used by business. Corporate strategy is heavily influenced by its roots in military strategy. The very language of strategy is deeply imbued with military references - chief executive 'officers' in 'headquarters,' 'troops' on the 'front lines,' human 'resources' and more. Described this way, many workplace cultures are about confronting an opponent and fighting over a given piece of land that is limited and constant. Unlike war, however, the history of industry and business shows us the market universe has never been constant, rather new job functions for example have been continuously created or re-invented over time. The modern take on Chaplaincy and its professionalisation I would argue is one of those re-inventions. There has never been a need more with technology driving almost all aspects of our lives that we need empathetic human interaction.

The Toll Group for example which operates a vast global logistics network that provides diverse freight transport services uses the Chaplaincy model to support some 8000 employees in Australia. Fortescue Metals have also introduced the Chaplaincy Model to support FIFO workers, who often manage unique interpersonal challenges.

Funded by enterprise, Chaplains sometimes form part of EAP services and sometimes are completely separate. Always they constitute an intervention programme directed at individual employees to prevent and resolve work and non-work problems so that the individual is able to continue performing at the expected level (Berridge and Cooper 1994: 5).

Chaplains serve to support the objective of people management to mitigate, for example, the stresses and strains experienced at work. There are different approaches to EAPs (e.g. they can be provided both in-house and externally), but all share an assumption that certain issues have impaired employee well-being and job performance.

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